Joe Boland

There are three people named “Francis” who deeply influence the work of Catholic Extension.

The first is Father Francis Clement Kelley – The founder of Catholic Extension, who inspired and nurtured the Catholic Church Extension moment in the United States more than a century ago. Francis Kelley’s vision of “awakening the mission spirit in America” continues to be at the heart of all of our efforts. 

Father Francis Clement Kelley, Founder of Catholic Extension

The second is Pope Francis – Our newly elected Pope, who has rekindled in the Universal Church our commitment to go out of our enclosures to ensure that all people, no matter their circumstances, know the loving presence of Christ. This same spirit is at the heart of Catholic Extension’s mission to extend our Catholic faith to communities in our country that find themselves on the geographic or socio-economic peripheries. 

Pope Francis - Catholic Extension
Pope Francis, our newly elected Pope 

The third is Cardinal Francis George – The chancellor of Catholic Extension, who has faithfully and prudently guided this organization for nearly 17 years. 

Cardinal Francis George, Chancellor of Catholic Extension

On the occasion of his 50th anniversary to the priesthood, allow us to offer some brief reflections on the Cardinal’s contributions to Extension, and how we are honoring him on this day. 

  • Cardinal George had firsthand knowledge of the impact of Catholic Extension’s support during his tenure as bishop of Yakima, an 18,000 square-mile mission diocese in central Washington. When he later was named Archbishop of Chicago, he said that one of the things he looked forward to was the opportunity to also become the ex-officio chancellor of Catholic Extension. Throughout his 17 years in this role, he has remained very close to the work of Catholic Extension and has done everything in his power to raise awareness about its mission. As chancellor, Cardinal George has been adamant that Catholic Extension cultivate collaborative relationships with the bishops of the “mission dioceses” we help. In response to Cardinal George’s vision, Catholic Extension has worked hard to deepen our relationships with 91 dioceses across the country.
  • Many bishops have been deeply touched and inspired by the work of Cardinal George not only through his role as Archbishop of Chicago or past role as president of the USCCB, but also through his role as chancellor of Catholic Extension. 
  • One bishop from an Extension-supported diocese in Louisiana wrote: "Cardinal George, your example has been a source of inspiration and guidance for me in my first years as bishop."
  • Another bishop from New Mexico wrote: "Thank you, Cardinal, for your wise, thoughtful and inspiring leadership in the USCCB, nation and world."
  • Finally, a bishop from the South said: "Thank you, Cardinal George, for all the many ways you have supported your brother bishops, as head of the USCCB and leader of Catholic Extension, especially us bishops in the South who have benefited from your wisdom and largesse."

Catholic Extension is pleased to announce the introduction of the “Francis Fund” in honor of Francis Cardinal George, who celebrates his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. We will be directing this year’s funds to the ongoing education of bishops in under-resourced dioceses that lack the resources for educational and formational enrichment opportunities. 

Another way we are planning to honor Cardinal George is by naming a seminarian scholarship after him. One of the major priorities of poor dioceses is getting help with the growing cost to educate their seminarians. Catholic Extension has partnered with Mundelein Seminary to offer Sacred Theology Licentiate (S.T.L.) scholarships to young men from mission dioceses. Now it its third year, 18 seminarians from 10 dioceses are part of the program. Both Mundelein Seminary and Catholic Extension are making financial contributions to ensure that 100 percent of the tuition, room and board is covered for these seminarians over the five years of their studies. Valued at $175,000 per seminarian, this scholarship is an enormous financial help to mission dioceses with very limited budgets. With their advanced degrees, these young men will become great theological resources to their dioceses after ordination, in places of our country where Catholic universities are few and far between. 

The name of this scholarship program will be known as the “Francis Cardinal George S.T.L. Scholarship.”   

These two initiatives are part of our humble effort to honor Cardinal George – who cherishes his priesthood so deeply, who knows the experience of church in a mission diocese, and whose enthusiasm for Extension’s mission could not be greater.

Cardinal George, thank you for your leadership in the Church of the United States!  Ad Moltos Annos!